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01.20.2005

Does Success Change A Wine?: Rosenblum is About To Find Out

Get out your microscopes and train them on the petri dish of the East Bay to see how a family winery goes from garage to gargantuan. Will they survive to resemble the winery we know and love?

Rosenblum Cellars has quite possibly been THE shooting star in the Northern California wine industry in the last 5 to 10 years. Since 1978 they have gone from a small portfolio of carefully crafted Zinfandels known only by aficionados, to a huge portfolio of carefully crafted wines that have raked in high scores like nobody's business, in particular over the last few years. Amazingly, they've even managed to avoid falling prey to the tendency to raise prices -- some of their 90+ point wines are still only about $12, and many of their wines are still made in very small productions as if they are still a small family winery. Their production exceeds 100,000 cases.

Frankly, their wines are fantastic and they've well deserved every bit of praise they've garnered, especially given their long dedication to making wine, but I've been wondering how long they can sustain their attention to detail and quality, personable accessibility, and value based pricing in the face of such success.

We're about to find out. Rosenblum's recent success presents us with a very unique opportunity to see how a small family run business makes the transition to big-time player. Or at least, wearing the shoes of a big time player.

Recently, Rosenblum initiated discussions which will take them out of their community oriented, funky warehouse space in Alameda (known for its welcoming family atmosphere) across the bay to plant them in a 150,0000 case production working winery on 34 acres of a new 500-acre subdivision with 1,100 units of "active adult" and one hundred "executive" homes.

Whoa. Welcome to the Big Time.

We should wish such success on all of our favorite winemakers, of course. They deserve it after working so hard and passionately to create a superior product, and they're definitely outgrowing their current space. Yet its hard to imagine that such expansion and change in atmosphere won't have an effect at least on perception of the winery, if not the quality of the wines. Kent Rosenblum knows what he's doing, and with his dedication to quality, I can't imagine things will completely change, but you don't move from a shack to a mansion without some change in lifestyle.

I'm crossing my fingers to hope that they'll continue to operate like a boutique winery and make all those yummy small production wines that I have come to love, and that Kent will still show up at most tastings to pour his wines and chat with people. Regardless, it will be an interesting couple of years for Rosenblum. Wish them luck.

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